Or “To The Cafeteria… FOR JUSTICE!”
I admit it. I’m a sucker for a supergroup. You give me six or eight guys with divergent powers and some sort of raison d’etre (which is french for “raisin bran,” I think), I’m a happy guy. This has led me to read some really horrifically bad titles over the years… Youngblood… The Retributors… Team Youngblood… Supermen of America… Extreme Youngblood… Dragging my way through comics that awful just solidifies why I love this book so very much. PS 238 combines all the conventions of the super-team genre with a highly specialized setting and an excellent hook: Where do the children of superheroes go to school?
In case this premise sounds familiar, it should be noted that Aaron Williams started this book some time before Disney announced the movie “Sky High,” and Aaron’s fans have opined loud and long about whether somebody at the House of Mouse was sleeping with the windows open. I strongly believe somebody at Chez Walt owes Mr. Williams some serious royalties. The premise of “powerless child of the world’s foremost male and female heroes” is an awfully specific one to have spontaneously generated. In any case, PS 238 is very well done, dense with references and comic homages, but most of all, it’s a well-written ensemble book that manages to actually make it’s school-age protagonists believable as grade school kids.
I will warn you, though, this issue is frought with continuity, and probably NOT the best place for a new reader to hop aboard. Multiple storylines abound, starting with a brand new student to PS 238, Satori. Satori has the ability to see things beyond our normal reality, including the spirits of the recently dead. Last issue, it was she who helped to save the day, by communicating with the seemingly dead spirit of Ambriel, one of the “special” students. (PS 238 is an underground facility, located beneath Excelsior Public School. Satori was, until now, a regular kid at Excelsior.) When questioned by some of the superpowered teachers, Satori explains that she keeps her powers secret because the dead, apparently, are extrememly demanding.
Heh… This is funny on many levels, not the least of which is the patronizing “Of course you have” tone of voice from the teach. While Miss Shakti and Satori become Ghost Whisperers, other fallout from previous issues hits the school Principal’s fan. Since one of the students technically died (it didn’t take), the government wants to shut the school down and put it under federal control. This doesn’t sit well with Mr. Cranston, who, like all the school faculty, is a former superhuman himself.
The Principal is a formidable legal scholar, as well as his other powers, and manages to fend off whatever evils the administration might have in mind, for now. Unfortunately, as soon as one crisis is averted, Mr. Cranston is forced to deal with another. Prospero, PS238’s only alien student, has news that seems urgent. The only problem? He doesn’t speak any English, communicating mostly by shooting people with a ping-pong-ball gun. Through context and body language, Prospero leads the Cranston and school handyman to a machine which conveys the seriousness of… whatever is going on.
If I’m reading that correctly, SOMETHING is coming to Earth from space, and there’s a pretty good chance that it ain’t E.T. Meanwhile, big doins are up with Tyler Marlocke, the closest thing we have to a central character. Tyler is the son of (for all intents and purposes) Superman and Wonder Woman, but has no powers of his own. As such, his parents have sent him to school to learn how to be a superhero, as they believe “he’s just a late-bloomer.” They’ve also given permission to expose him to cosmic rays, experimental bomb sites, and science exhibits involving radiation and arachnids. Tyler is currently learning how to be a superhero from The Revenant (read Batman) and is given a utility belt full of gadgets, weapons, and tools of the trade that he uses in… interesting ways.
You have to give him credit for ingenuity, anyway. In his particular subplot, Tyler is on the trail of a bully from Excelsior school who has accidentally gained superpowers through interaction with the kids from PS 238. (My kid only brings home colds and flu.) Worse than that, he’s a teleporter, and has been ambushing other kids and dumping them in the nearby lake out of sheer cruelty. Tyler has assembled a fighting force of his classmates, all of whom respect and trust him, and NONE of whom seem to realize that it’s Tyler behind the mask of Moonshadow. He’s not sure which is more surprising. This, actually, is the first indication that Tyler Marlocke may be more than just you average boy. He’s joined by Emerald Gauntlet (reminiscent of Green Lantern), The Flea (more than just a little like Spider-Man), Captain Clarinet (the son of an alien rocketed to Earth and raised in Iowa by farmers), The American Eagle (overtones of every patriotic hero since 1940) and… some girl. She hasn’t picked a code-name yet, but she’s got powers!
Not only is that a cute character moment, and kind of funny, it’s even more amusing when you take into account the amount of heroes with quasi-Kryptonian powers for no discernable reason at all. If you’re a fan of superhero comics, there are enough meta-references here to make your head spin on your shoulders. Even I didn’t catch them all the first time through. PS 238 is a labor of love, written and drawn by a man who obviously LOVES comic books as an art form and superheroes as both social commentary and biff-pow fun. More than that, Aaron wants YOU to have fun, too. The characters are first-rate, and even situations or premises that seem familiar take on a whole new twist, such as Satori’s conversation with the ghost (“You speak English?” “You pick it up if you sit around a schoolyard long enough.”) and the moment when Tyler sends his team into battle and is left behind as the only one who can’t fly.
Every issue is stuffed full of goodness, jokes, and some of the cleverest twists this side of Rod Serling. There are only two real negatives to this particular issue. First, the cliff-hanger ending just sort of happens. The first time I read it, I actually kept turning to get to the next page before noticing the “Class Dismissed” logo that indicates the end of the book. And second, there’s so much going on in this issue, that even I, a dedicated reader had to backtrack to follow it all. We’re between big storylines, and a lot of subplots are on the boil, not that’s honestly not much of a complaint. Each issue of this book is better than the last, and it’s one of the books that I look forward to each month because it’s just plain fun. Even with everything going on, this issue gets a solid four stars, and a special note: When I missed an issue, I ordered it from his website. I got not only my missing book, but a personally autographed copy for no extra charge. Now, that’s a creator who appreciates his fans.